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In the Land of the Midnight Sun

 Photography by Izaak Holsapple

Her terrain is rugged and unforgiving, her valleys vast, and her snow-capped peaks soaring. Her expansive tundra is braided by thousands of rivers, and her boreal forests and crystalline blue waters teem with life. Her storied history steeped in rich indigenous culture has inspired millions, and her tales of adventure and triumph are passed on to each new generation. She is the last frontier, the land of the midnight sun, and the most indescribable union of ecological regions on this planet; she is Alaska. 

Diverse in topography and climate, Alaska is one of the most unique and naturally bountiful places in the world. More than twice the size of Texas, the far-reaching landscape is home to many national parks, preserves, monuments, and national historical parks, with roughly 60% of all land federally managed by the National Park Service. Only three of Alaska's National Parks, Denali, Kenai Fjords, and Wrangell-St. Elias, are accessible by car, with the other five accessible by plane or boat. While this may seem inconvenient to those unfamiliar with the immensity of her territory, the impact of the raw and undisturbed backcountry experienced in traveling to Alaska's more remote destinations cannot be understated. 

Take for example, Kobuk Valley National Park. Situated north of the Arctic Circle, Kobuk Valley is home to towering arctic dunes (some reaching up to 200 ft high) and seasonal migrations of 500,000 caribou. There are no facilities or services available, just an uninterrupted 1.75 million acres of remote backcountry where proper planning and preparation pay dividends. Trips to isolated destinations like Kobuk Valley can cost a pretty penny between hiring knowledgeable guides and chartering a plane to get you there (and back) safely; however, the rewards are high with unspeakably ethereal landscapes witnessed by only a daring few.

To experience true Alaska, one must venture outside the bounds of comfort and immerse themselves in the austere terrain of the regions less traveled. While places like Denali National Park are popular among tourists for the accessibility of their captivating scenery, if you venture a little further, you might see things you never thought possible. 

This picturesque state is divided into five distinct regions: Inside Passage, Southcentral, Interior, Arctic, and Southwest. Each part is unique, from the native cultures and communities to the weather, sub-regions, and wildlife. No matter where you are in Alaska, you will be graced with some permutation of these elements. Still, depending on your interests, certain regions may bode better for your adventures than others.

Climbers may want to head to the Interior to tackle Denali, North America's tallest peak. At the same time, boaters and kayakers will revel in exploring the coves, bays, and glaciers of Prince William Sound in the Southcentral region. For those who have dreamed of witnessing the stunning phenomenon that is aurora borealis (the northern lights), heading to the Arctic Circle might be the best call. In today's adventure, we will travel to the Southwest and Inside Passage to chase fins in the world's largest sockeye salmon run and discover the wonders of the tidewater glaciers and wildlife-filled fjords of Alaska's Pacific coastline. 

Southwestern Alaska

A region as diverse in its landscapes as it is in its activities, Southwestern Alaska is a naturalist and adventurer's paradise. The scenery is second to none, from the volcanic terrain of Katmai National Park and Preserve to the rugged, windswept Aleutian Islands on the coast. The Southwest is home to a healthy population of brown bears, more than 240 bird species, and the world's largest wild sockeye salmon fishery - Bristol Bay.

The Bristol Bay watershed is a vital habitat for various animal species, including 29 species of fish, more than 190 birds, and more than 40 land mammals. A coveted location among anglers, fishing in Bristol Bay affords opportunities to catch all five species of Pacific salmon in North America: sockeye, coho, chinook (or king), chum, and pink. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), approximately half of Bristol Bay's sockeye salmon production flows from the Nushagak and Kvichak River watersheds, the largest of Bristol Bay's six major river basins. 

For thousands of years, these watersheds have provided a way of life for indigenous communities whose cultures are deeply rooted in hunting, gathering, and the subsistence harvesting of wild salmon. Bristol Bay is home to 25 federally recognized tribal governments, 14 of which are within the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds. Firmly bound by their environmental connection, native communities like the Yup'ik and Dena'ina are considered to be some of the last-standing sustainable salmon-based cultures worldwide.  

As wondrous as the great migration across the plains of Africa, millions of sockeye journey to their natal streams each year to spawn in protected, well-oxygenated fresh water. In 2022 alone, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported a total run of over 76 million sockeye salmon between the Bay's Ugashik, Egegik, Naknek-Kvichak, Nushagak, and Togiak fisheries. Perhaps the most marvelous display of evolutionary ability, these fish travel hundreds, if not thousands of miles, to reach their destination, relying on the earth's magnetic field and a highly developed sense of smell to guide them home. To see the salmon run in Bristol Bay is to witness an awe-inspiring feat of natural instinct and perseverance. 

Salmon season peaks in the summer, with the five major species running upstream from May to November. Iconic chinook (king) salmon fishing typically begins in May and stays active through late July. Chum salmon typically run from mid-June to mid-August, while pink and sockeye salmon are on the move from mid-July to mid-August. From July to November, the spawn wraps up with a run of silver coho salmon. 

There is no better way to experience the best of sport fishing in Southwestern Alaska than with one of the region's premier fly-out fishing lodges. While there are some options to choose from depending on your desired fishing and sightseeing, one place stands out - Mission Lodge. 


In a class of its own, Mission Lodge is uniquely positioned in the region with access to waters untouched by any other lodge or anglers (aside from the locals). In the heart of Bristol Bay, nestled on Lake Aleknagik, Mission Lodge has welcomed those with a spirit for adventure and passion for angling for over thirty years. Owned by Bristol Bay Native Corporation, celebration of the area's wealth of history, culture, and natural resources is always at the core of what they do.

Your journey to Mission Lodge will begin in Anchorage, where you will load your bags onto one of Katmai Air's Pilatus PC-12s for your private charter flight to Dillingham. Although just an hour's flight, you will catch your first views of the backcountry from above as you fly over Cook's Inlet and Lake Clark National Park. If you are lucky enough for clear skies, spectacular views will keep you entertained right up until the lodge's staff whisk you from the tarmac to one of their waiting transportation shuttles.

Upon arrival, you will receive the warmest of welcomes from the lodges’ General Manager and its’ exceptional staff. After shaking hands with your new family for the week, they will show you to your room, issue your Alaska fishing license, and serve you delicious appetizers and house-crafted cocktails. Settle in and soak up the magical sunset over Lake Aleknagik from the back porch and get ready for a fabulous three-course wine dinner prepared by the in-house chef and culinary team. Scrumptious desserts, home-baked bread and pastries freshly caught salmon, and gigantic King Crab legs are a few things you may indulge in throughout the week. Before retiring for a good night's rest and your first day of fishing, the lodge's head guide will meet with you to discuss your itinerary for the following day.

At Mission Lodge, you choose your adventure. You tell them what you want to catch or what you want to see, and they will make it happen, weather and season permitting of course. Each morning will begin with the smell of hot coffee wafting through the lodge halls, inviting you to wander downstairs for a hearty breakfast buffet before your action-packed day. Part of the magic here is walking out to the guideboard each morning to see where you'll be headed, which guides you'll be fishing with, and how you'll be getting there, as each day holds something different.

As a fly-out lodge, Mission offers the opportunity to fish on rivers, lakes, streams, and creeks across the Southwestern region. Deep in the heart of Bristol Bay, their location affords a range of travel that not many other lodges can compete with. Mission has over 40 boats stashed throughout the region, and most days, you will find yourself hopping into one of their three De Havilland Beaver float planes to fly to your destination. Some days your guide(s) will join you for the flight, and others, you may meet them at one of the lodge's river outposts where they have everything set up and ready for the day. Depending on where you are going, these flights can range from ten minutes to an hour and a half, but rest assured, this will quickly become one of your favorite modes of transportation.

There is nothing quite like taking off and landing on the water. The thrill of the approach, the deft and calculated maneuvering by your pilot as he picks the perfect bend of the river to touch down, and the buttery smoothness of the water underneath as you taxi to shore. As you travel through the skies, you will see parts of the backcountry unseen and untouched by any other, often flying low enough to spot bears and moose meandering in the dense brush below. You will see more lakes, ponds, and snaking rivers than you ever knew existed, and possibly even a herd of caribou grazing the tundra. 

When fishing you will likely go to the Togiak River, a robust fishery known for its populations of all five species of Pacific Salmon, as well as rainbow trout and Dolly Varden. During king salmon season, Mission's Togiak Camp is the center of the action. On the Togiak, you may float for the day or hop out occasionally to floss for sockeye salmon from the shore; either way, it’s the perfect time to fill your freezer with some fresh fish to take home. While floating the Togiak, you may spot brown bears, moose, caribou, eagles, and even the elusive lynx. Lunch each day will be served streamside, and depending on location, it could be a fresh catch cooked up by the guides or pre-made sandwiches with chips, cookies, fruit, candy bars, and hot and cold beverages.

No matter where your fishing takes you, you are never far from a reminder of whose home you are visiting. You will see tracks in the mud—big ones, and lots of them. You will see piles of bear scat on the riverbanks and half-eaten salmon discarded along the shores. And you will likely hear some rustling and crunching in the forest at some point. Nothing, however, is more of an adrenaline rush than looking upstream to discover that another "fisherman" has come out of the brush to observe the commotion. The wildlife is everywhere, but that's what makes Alaska what it is, wild. 

Fishing with Mission Lodge will take you to places you thought only existed in movies. Take for example Mirror Bay and Portage Arm in Nuyakuk Lake, where your flight is almost as exquisite as the fishing ahead. As you approach the Lake through granite peaks shrouded in low-lying clouds and mist, the views quickly turn otherworldly; turquoise water meets a sheer rock face blanketed in lush green vegetation that surrounds you in every direction. At some points, you might not even feel like you are in Alaska as the utter scale, vibrant color, and untamed beauty is more reminiscent of Jurassic Park. Even more captivating is spotting groups of thousands of crimson-red salmon schooled up in the blue water from above. 


At Mirror Bay, you can fish for salmon and some of Alaska's resident freshwater species, including Arctic char, Arctic grayling, and lake trout. Those who have never seen an Arctic grayling are in for a real treat. The sailfish of the North, as it is commonly called, is distinctive with its iridescent blue/gold dorsal fin. Though they do not grow large (the state record is 3.9 lbs.), they prove quite an intriguing catch for those used to more common freshwater species like trout.

With more potential destinations than you can count, each day provides new and exciting ways to see different parts of the region, covering up to 120 miles in any direction. Fish rivers like the Agulawok, the Upper and Lower Nushagak, and Ongoke. Explore small streams and creeks that require more technical fishing or toss out some spoons in a lake for a chance at a massive Northern pike. Some rivers like the Ongoke host small populations of rare trophy-size wild rainbow trout. For many trout fishermen, this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to land a rainbow that is entirely a product of its environment - no hatchery, no additives, and 100% wild. With commercial and special use permits, the lodge can operate within the protected areas of Katmai National Park, the Togiak National Wildlife Refuge, and Wood Tikchik State Park.

If you need a break from fishing, consider a day trip to the legendary Brooks Falls, where brown bears wade at the base of the falls waiting to snag sockeye salmon from the air as they propel themselves upstream. First, you will stop at Brooks Camp for a short bear safety briefing, and from there, you will follow the woodland paths to the falls viewing platform where the bears gather along the riverbank. You may encounter a bear on the trail, so it's essential to pay close attention. Stop and fish on the way home or take a detour and catch an aerial view of Katmai's Valley of Ten Thousand Smokes, where hundreds of years of volcanic activity created deep ash-carved gorges and canyons.

Aside from the world-class fishing and magnificent scenery, the best thing about Mission Lodge is without a doubt its people. While there, you feel as though you are at home with your family. The lodge's staff provides everything you could want or need during your stay. When you wake up, they serve piping hot coffee and breakfast, and when you come off the water, they appear with a warm towel and what is sure to become a fast favorite: the cocktail of the day. Throughout your stay, you will have the pleasure of working with many of Mission Lodge's seasoned guides, each well-versed in their respective techniques, styles, and fisheries. Spending time learning from these professionals who are passionate about fishing and the environment they work in is inspiring for the angler in us all. You will gain local knowledge of the area and some first-hand insight into what it is like to be a fly-fishing guide in remote Alaska. Ask away, because they have some serious tales to tell!

A typical stay at Mission Lodge is seven nights and six fishing days, arriving on Friday and leaving the following Friday. However, trips of alternate lengths can also be accommodated based on availability. The lodge traditionally accommodates twenty guests, with the ability to host up to twenty-four upon request. Pricing includes lodging, all meals, and drinks at the lodge (including the fully stocked bar), daily guided fishing, use of all tackle, waders and boots, daily fly-outs, taxes, fuel service charges, fishing licenses, and private charters between Anchorage and Dillingham. Want to take home some of your salmon catch? The lodge will prepare your fish, pack them up and ship them right to your doorstep so you can have hand-caught wild Alaskan salmon all year long. Each angler can take home up to fifty pounds of salmon prepared in various ways. 

To learn more about planning a trip to Mission Lodge and experiencing the wonders of fishing and sightseeing in Southwestern Alaska, visit

Cruising the Inside Passage 

Alaska's 500-mile-long Inside Passage will transport you back in time. Witness the extraordinary shaping power of nature as you take in the region's deep coastal fjords and flourishing islands carved out by glaciers over millions of years. The vast majority of the Inside Passage is covered by the Tongas National Forest, the largest national forest in the United States and the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world. This region is also rich in indigenous culture and history and is home to several native groups, including the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian.

Within the Inside Passage are popular towns like Juneau, Ketchikan, Petersburg, Sitka, Skagway, and Wrangell. Perhaps one of the most incredible national parks in the world, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is also one of the top stops along the Inside Passage, with select cruise lines permitted to operate within its waters. For many of these coastal communities, the primary means of transportation involves the Alaska Marine Highway, which ferries passengers to over 35 ports stretching from Bellingham, Washington, to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. While one could hop on the Alaska Marine Highway and explore the Inside Passage at their own pace, one of the more comfortable ways to do this is by setting sail on one of the many cruise ships that frequent the area. 

With so many options, you can customize your Inside Passage experience to exactly what you want. Choose the length of your cruise and the port you leave from. Pick an itinerary that hits all your desired spots and fill it with exciting excursions that get you out, about, and exploring. If it fits your travel plans, consider one of the itineraries setting out from Whittier to allow you more time in the great land prior to your cruise.

Arrive in Anchorage a few days before your departure and catch up on your rest at the Anchorage Marriott Downtown. Within walking distance to plenty of shops and restaurants, you can spend a day exploring the city, gathering any last-minute necessities, and grabbing a bite to eat at the Glacier Brewhouse, just a few blocks from your hotel.

Stay a night or two at the Alyeska Resort in nearby Girdwood the following day. One of Alaska's premier destinations for skiing in the winter and a point of access to the Chugach National Forest, Girdwood is a playground for outdoor adventure, no matter the time of year. Take a leisurely walk on the pristine grounds, sip cocktails and enjoy appetizers in one of their lounges and dine in their fine restaurants. The Seven Glaciers restaurant, located at the top of the ski hill gondola, is an absolute must. 

While in Girdwood, another absolute must is a helicopter glacier tour. It is one thing to witness these glaciers from a distance, but to take in the massive expanses of ice, snow, rock, and sediment from above is truly something else. Some of these tours even allow you to land on top of a glacier, where you can view the deep crevasses of bright blue ice and whirling moulins from up close. You will walk on top of history as you explore a river of ice that has been carving away at the landscape for thousands of years. 

Before heading out to Whittier to meet your cruise ship, stop by the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to see some of the state's most well-known creatures. Established on over 200 acres of walkable, drivable, and bikeable land, you can view moose, reindeer, elk, bears, wolves, and many others in spacious habitats that enable them to live as they would in the wild. Continue along the Seward Highway and prepare to hold your breath for the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel, which takes you to Prince William Sound; this is the longest highway tunnel in North America at 2.5 miles! Board your ship, settle in with a warm drink on the viewing deck and get ready to set sail along the Inside Passage.

Depending on your itinerary, you may stop at several destinations and viewing points, such as Hubbard Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Skagway, offering opportunities to observe from the comfort of your suite or disembark and explore the mainland. 

As you cruise into Disenchantment Bay, you will be nothing short of enchanted with the views before you. Towering above is Hubbard Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in North America, measuring 76 miles long. Nicknamed "the galloping glacier," Hubbard is rapidly advancing towards the Bay, where it plunges 1,200 feet below the water's silty surface. While you can take in the striking views from anywhere on your ship, many cruises feature a smaller vessel that brings you closer to Hubbard's face, where you may witness the extraordinary sights and sounds of glacial calving. There is nothing quite like hearing the sharp crack of the ice and watching in awe as massive chunks break from the glacier's face and fall to the water below with a reverberating splash. This will be one of those days where you want to grab a great spot on the deck and settle in for the ride. Keep your eyes peeled for whale tails breaching the water and sea lions lounging lazily on floating icebergs!

The following day, wake up bright and early to catch your first glimpses of the majestic Glacier Bay National Park. With no port, this will be a full day of cruising and sightseeing among the park's emerald waters. Your ship will stop briefly at Bartlett Cove to welcome Park Rangers aboard, who will spend the day chronicling your journey into the heart of the Fairweather Mountains. Pay close attention as they often announce animal sightings in the waters and on the shores of the nearby islands. Glacier Bay is chock full of wildlife, and with a keen eye, you can spot anything from brown bears, humpback whales, and porpoises to harbor seals, mountain goats, and sizable seabird colonies. The park's mountains, shorelines, and waterways dwarf even the largest ship in its pristine landscape, and you will gain an entirely new perspective when you pull up alongside the Margerie Glacier. You can visualize the path this 21-mile-long river of ice took as it carved its way from deep in the Fairweather Mountain Range to the salty waters of Tarr Inlet. Margerie Glacier is very active, and the chance of seeing some calving from its face is very high. If your room has a private balcony, this is time to enjoy it as the ship will spend at least an hour providing a 360-degree view for those on board.


Travel back in time to your next stop, Skagway. Over one hundred years ago, Skagway was the gateway to a life of fortune for thousands hoping to strike it rich during the Klondike Gold Rush. Part of the Klondike National Historical Park, Skagway's seven-block Broadway corridor will transport you back to the gold rush era with its restored buildings, historic false-front shops and restaurants, wooden sidewalks, and locals dressed in colorful costumes. Dive deep into the history of the Klondike Gold Rush at the Skagway Museum, which is devoted to the local and native history of the town, displaying artifacts from the gold rush era and Alaska native baskets, beadwork, and carvings. Hop aboard the White Pass & Yukon Railroad and ride one of the restored vintage train cars to the top of the mountain into Yukon territory. The railroad follows the Chilkoot Trail, where some 40,000 gold rush hopefuls marched the rugged terrain headed for the Yukon. Today, you can still spot remnants of tools, wheels, and old footpaths that they followed. As you traverse the tracks and bridges along this railroad, some of which are engineering marvels etched into the mountainside, you will pass the historic Gold Rush Cemetery and stunning sights such as Glacier Gorge, Dead Horse Gulch, and the cascading Bridal Veil Falls. While in Skagway, you also can't miss grabbing a drink at the historic Red Onion Saloon. During the gold rush, this was a famous bordello, but today it is a restaurant and bar with a lively atmosphere. 

Another popular gold rush destination you will likely visit is Alaska's capital, Juneau. Only accessible by plane or boat, this remote capital was founded during the gold rush era when two pioneers discovered three of the largest gold mines in the world. More than $150 million in gold was pulled from its mines, which is nearly $7 billion in today's value, and by the time the mines dried up, the booming town was so well established that it was declared the state's capital in 1906. Today Juneau is known not only for its gold and government but for its plethora of wildlife and impressive coastal mountain views. This is an incredible place to head out on a whale-watching expedition. Juneau's location on several different waterways, including Auke Bay and the Gastineau and Lynn Channels, as well as its many islands, makes this a prime area for humpback whale viewing. You will want to keep your camera ready to capture the iconic "fluke." In these waters, you can also spot orcas, Dall's porpoise, harbor seals, and Steller sea lions, as well as many animals roaming the shorelines. Hop on one of the larger tour boats, or opt for a more intimate experience with a private charter for you and your group. The local captains are knowledgeable and passionate about teaching you all there is to know about Juneau's aquatic residents. If you want something a little more active, this is also an excellent place for an offshore fishing charter where you can catch halibut, rockfish, pacific cod, and lingcod. Juneau is also famous for the Mendenhall Glacier, where tours will take you flying high for a bird's eye view or straight to its surface for a one-in-a-lifetime experience exploring the vibrant blue ice up close. 

At the southernmost entrance to the Inside Passage, you will reach Alaska's fourth-largest city, Ketchikan, known as the salmon capital of the world. Ketchikan began as a small fishing village, and its name, a Tlingit phrase meaning "eagle with spread-out wings," is a lasting reminder of its original native inhabitants. Various native groups call the Ketchikan area home, including the Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian, whose culture and history are visibly woven into the fabric of the town and land. With the establishment of the fishing and timber industries in the early 1900s, the town quickly grew to its current size. Check out Totem Bight State Park, where you can admire the time-honored craft of totem carving. Meander through massive hemlocks as you explore the tall, intricately carved totem poles of the Tlingit and Haida, a practice and art kept alive for generations, with each telling a story of its own. Catch a glimpse of what life in 19th-century Native Alaskan culture was like with a visit to the park's replica Clan House, a structure that would have served as a home to several native families. Immerse yourself deeper with a trip to the Saxman Native Village, where you can experience a Tlingit tribal ceremony and traditional song, dance, and storytelling performances. Back in town, take a walk down the historic Creek Street boardwalk, formerly a bustling gold rush red light district. Shop at locally owned stores and visit the Dolly's House Museum. Before heading back to your ship, stop for a bloody mary at the Arctic Bar, the oldest local hangout in Ketchikan.

No matter your route, any Inside Passage voyage is bound to be full of intriguing history, vibrant culture, breathtaking scenery, and fascinating wildlife. The hardest part of this trip is packing up your bags to head back home, though you will likely start planning your next visit before your plane takes off. With any travel through this incredible state, whether by sea or air, always remember to be respectful of her land, her culture, and her wildlife so that she may forever remain the last great frontier. 

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